The Dumbest Reasons For Rejecting Job Applicants (Questionable rejection factors that hurt hiring results)

How many of your qualified candidates are being rejected for these questionable reasons?

Article Descriptors| Recruiting /rejection factors – How to – 4 min read

It’s no secret that most hiring processes suffer because they are mostly intuitive and use assessment factors that don’t predict new hires’ on-the-job performance. As a result, new hire failure rates average 46%.

One primary contributor to this ridiculously high failure rate is the use of questionable “knockout factors” that result in the instant rejection of a candidate. Of course, it’s okay to reject a candidate because they don’t meet one of the critical job requirements. However, you will unnecessarily lose a number of great candidates when you reject them based only on a highly subjective knockout factor that does not even appear in the job description.

Those questionable knockout factors include being overqualified, first impressions, and cultural fit. 

The Dumbest Reasons For Rejecting Otherwise Qualified Candidates 

Below are the 5+ dumbest reasons for rejecting a job applicant. The ones that cause the most damage appear near the beginning of the list.

Rejected because the candidate was “overqualified”

Rejecting an overqualified candidate can be illegal because, in practice, it means periodically rejecting older applicants who are often the most qualified.

Rejecting the overqualified happens more often when there is a large candidate pool. When managers can be choosy, it is not unusual for them to reject candidates that exceed the job qualifications. This dumb rejection is based on the faulty assumption that a candidate with excessive capabilities will likely quickly get bored and set a bad example by loafing. Or based on the assumption that they will quit the minute they come across a better opportunity that more closely matches their qualifications. Some managers also worry about the possibility that the differences in qualifications will create friction with other teammates. 

  • Why overqualified shouldn’t be a rejection factor – first off, managers shouldn’t use overqualified as a rejection factor. Because it carries with it the real threat of age discrimination complaints. Next, if you couldn’t justify the rejection of a 7ft 4 basketball player because they were “too tall.” Why would you even consider rejecting an overqualified candidate for a moment? Therefore, hiring managers should view an overqualified applicant as an opportunity. In addition to their own higher performance, a properly coached, overqualified new hire can be a productivity booster for the whole team (if they agree to coach and train their teammates). And if their manager proactively keeps them engaged and shows them a path to a promotion, any turnover concern should go away.

Rejecting a candidate based on their “cultural fit” 

One of the most common assessments made by managers is the cultural fit of the candidate. Where cultural fit covers how well a candidate is likely to blend in or fit with the current team.

This dumb rejection is based on the assumption that candidates who differ significantly in values, attitudes, and behaviors will end up disrupting the cohesion and smooth operation of the existing team. Because they will quickly realize that they don’t fit, they are also likely to become an early turnover statistic.

  • Why cultural fit shouldn’t be a rejection factor – research has revealed that there are multiple problems related to using cultural fit in hiring. Including the fact that “fit” is poorly defined and that untrained managers are not good at accurately assessing it. It should also not be used because it is not a good predictor of on-the-job performance. It turns out that fit is not often a problem with new hires. Because top candidates are almost always able to adapt to a different team or company culture. Next, realize that if your goal is to increase diversity in hiring, using fit as a rejection factor certainly won’t help. Fit is almost always highly discriminatory because it frequently screens out diverse candidates (who are, by definition, different). Even knowing that you assess cultural fit may by itself scare away some diverse applicants.

Rejected because the candidate exhibited “bad body language”

Even when a candidate scores high in each of the major job qualification areas. The manager may still reject them when their body language doesn’t meet their expectations. This dumb rejection is based on the assumption that body language during an interview is an indicator of what the new hire will be like on the job. 

  • Why body language shouldn’t be a rejection factor – the primary reason not to use body language assessment (like eye contact, hand gestures, and body posture) is that these assessments are not valid indicators of the future behaviors, attitudes, and capabilities that the candidate will actually bring to the job. It is also not an accurate assessment tool because there are no fixed descriptions of good and bad body language expectations. The “good expectations” are often discriminatory because they are modeled after how a white male would normally act during an interview. As a result, most of these assessments unfairly hurt the chances of female, diverse, and international candidates. Another limiting factor is that managers haven’t been trained on how to assess body language accurately. Finally, the view of the candidate’s body is limited during remote interviews. The body language assessment of a candidate will vary depending on what the interviewer can see.

Rejecting a candidate based on the manager’s “first impressions” 

First impression assessments are common because busy hiring managers often take the easy road and make their hiring decisions based almost exclusively on their first impressions. Managers often feel comfortable with this type of assessment because they haven’t been educated with data showing that first impressions are not an accurate predictor of on-the-job success.

Why first impressions shouldn’t be a rejection factor – in fact, one researcher labels it as “the #1 cause of hiring mistakes.” These impressions are a bad rejection factor because they are highly influenced by unconscious biases. And many managers inaccurately assess first impressions. Once again, managers are not even trained on how to assess and judge first impressions accurately. Another problem is that these first impressions are often limited to non-job related factors, which may also be discriminatory. Including a candidate’s greeting, handshake, dress, physical size, and how old they look. Of course, all of these problems don’t mean that you shouldn’t assess first impressions. However, it does mean that this first assessment must be supplemented with many additional impressions that are gathered throughout the hiring process.

Rejected because the candidate’s performance was “too perfect” 

Although it’s not common, there are managers who reject final candidates because their interview performance was “just too perfect.” And even though doubting perfect interview performance runs counter to the basic goal of hiring (which is to hire the best person). This dumb rejection decision is usually based on the not-always-true premise that the candidate outperformed during every interview. Not because of their superior capabilities but because their performance was a result of their “extensive practicing.” 

  • Why being too perfect shouldn’t be a rejection factor the most desirable candidates prepare for everything. And in the cases where a candidate is suspected of “over-preparing.” The hiring manager needs to realize that this could be a result of either a strong interest in the job or the fact that they over-prepare for all important tasks (a good thing). And if you’re concerned that a candidate may only be good at interviews, but not at the job. During your interviews, verbally give them a challenging work problem to solve.

Rejecting a candidate based on “their generation”

Managers on either the older or younger end of the age spectrum often feel that they don’t understand or know how to manage candidates from more distant generations. They might also be worried that when they hire from generations that differ from those of the existing team, the different generations won’t be able to get along. 

  • Why a candidate’s generation shouldn’t be a rejection factor – those who define generations do it by age. Making decisions based on age is problematic because it is often discriminatory. Everyone should, in all cases, avoid relying on stereotypes because generational descriptions clearly assume that the available descriptors of the different generations are narrowly based on American middle-class stereotypes. As a result, the descriptors won’t be accurate for candidates from different genders, cultures, religions, and countries. So, instead of even considering stereotypes. The best practice is instead for the manager to learn whatever they need to know about each individual candidate during the hiring process. And a candidate should be selected or rejected based on that individual profile. It’s also important to realize that there’s plenty of evidence to show that teammates from different generations can and do adapt and learn to work with each other.
If you only do one thing – informally survey a handful of your hiring managers. In order to identify which of these questionable knockout factors that they are using. Then, educate all of your hiring managers and recruiters about why they shouldn’t be using the top two identified rejection factors. 

Final Thoughts

Although it’s common for hiring managers and recruiters to use a single “knockout factor” to completely eliminate a candidate. Instead, I urge caution in the use of any single “you’re out” factor. Because even the use of something, like having a criminal record, as a knockout factor, can have severe legal and discriminatory implications. So, my advice is to consider only factors that are clearly job-related. And those factors that predict on-the-job success. Instead of weighing them as a knockout factor, only assign these questionable assessment factors the same weight as other primary assessment factors. 

Author’s Note 

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About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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